1. Keanu Reeves in Much Ado About Nothing (1993)
|It's hard to imagine Ted 'Theodore' Logan |
having an interest in Shakespeare
And, as it turned out, the use of ‘big’ Hollywood names may have backfired, because much of the criticism the movie received was focused on the questionable casting, particularly of Keanu Reeves, who was awarded the Golden Raspberry (Razzie) for worst supporting actor.
2. Mel Gibson in Hamlet (1990)
|Something tells me Mad Max is |
not 'to be or not to be-ing'
Nevertheless, the film met with mainly positive reviews, and Mel Gibson shocked many with his portrayal.
In this writer’s opinion, his performance is strong if lacking in a little depth. However, the good news for Mel is that a role and film that could have made him the target of much mockery, was pulled off with dignity. It seems he was saving the opportunity to make a fool of himself for a later date.
3. Mel Smith in Twelfth Night (1996)
|Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones |
in their sketch show Smith & Jones
In reality, he is a very versatile actor and director, but at the time of filming Twelfth Night, Smith was best known as one half of the anarchic sketch comedy duo Smith and Jones.
Of course, his comedic talents are exactly what made him so great for the role. Nevertheless, his casting may have seemed like a risky choice to some.
4. Russell Brand in The Tempest (2010)
|Russell Brand undoubtedly has the intelligence |
and comedic talent to play Shakespeare
Brand’s role as Trinculo in Julie Taymor’s The Tempest received mixed reviews from both audiences and critics. For many people it is the irrepressible Dame Helen Mirren that keeps the whole ship afloat.
For me, Brand does nothing really wrong in his performance, except perhaps try a little too hard. Given his dandy flair, he is, arguably, a fine choice for many Shakespearean roles, King Lear’s Fool or Feste come to mind.
Is it Good to Shake Things Up?
All of the examples above reinforce the notion that Shakespeare was not just written for a few snobby, elitists. Nor was it meant to be performed exclusively by actors with perfectly formed vowels. In my opinion, it’s good to shake things up a little, to cast actors who would not normally be deemed the ‘type’ to play Shakespeare. And in doing so, filmmakers open the door to Shakespeare for a whole new audience that may never before have considered sitting down to watch a Shakespeare adaptation.
So, although I’d advise Keanu Reeves to leave well enough alone, I’m always excited to see casting choices that might, initially, seem strange.
I’ll leave you with one final peculiar bit of Shakespeare casting, although this one is not quite for real. Nevertheless, it would be interesting and extremely amusing to see the complete version of this Hamlet….don’t you think?